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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Welcome to the third installment of readers’ quarantine haiku. Thank you for sending in these gems. I love them.

 

(Reminder:  if yours hasn’t been posted yet, wait a day or so, I’ll get to it. And keep them coming!)

 

Let’s start with flowers because . . . flowers! After winter, flowers. What a marvelous event.

 

Sharon Carey sends in this

 

 

 

Springtime violas

uplift stone cold riprap spirits

Johnny jump ups cheer somber days

 

 

In case you, like me, don’t know what a Johnny jump up is—

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 11.09.32 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith Berger, herbalist, sends greetings from Manhattan:

 

 

Outside my window,

waxwing in the Juniper.

She too wears a mask.

 

 

 

 

Who knew this little project would be such an education? Here’s a waxwing in a juniper bush:

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 11.17.08 AM

 

 

 

 

 

My sister Mary K. wrote one we can all relate to:

 

 

Stationery bike

Attempting to stay in shape

Food and wine negate

 

 

 

 

My grand-nephew Charlie Greco, age 9, made a PSA haiku. Simple, sober and to the point. Thanks, Charlie!

 

 

coronavirus

it is horrible for you

wash your hands please, thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Last ones for the day are from my friend Michelle of Chicago.

 

 

 

[Explanation needed:  weeks and weeks ago which feels more like a lifetime ago, we met in Maui (I cringe at the Marie-Antoinette tone of that phrase, but it is what it is, and it’s relevant). In the airport restroom we spoke with a woman who had just come back from the little island of Molokai, once home to lepers. She enchanted us. Tall, willowy, gray-haired, dressed in safari-type clothes, a big smiler—also a widow who had buried her native-born Kauai husband on his home island years before. We wanted to know more about her—really I wanted to be her best friend—so we stalked her. Tracked her down in the airport restaurant to see who she was with.]

 

 

 

Molokai Lady

You were so interesting

Tell us your secret 

 

 

 

Michelle also wrote this one:

 

 

 

Were the fish laughing

When they saw my snorkel mask

Or was it my fins?

 

 

 

 

Okay, more tomorrow!

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(Please note: If you sent in a haiku and you haven’t seen it here yet, have patience! I have an abundance of haiku which is so much nicer than an abundance of caution.)

 

Here’s a lovely dose of spring from Patti Russo of Bloomington, Indiana (a perfectly-named town for the season):

Sunshine on a stick
Immune from fear or worry
Spring forsythia

 

Patti must have an abundance of creativity because she sent two haikus. Here’s the other:

To want a dog’s life
Not just any dog’s..this one’s
The smile says it all!

 

Brenda Loew sent these lovelies:

Where are the two leggeds now?!?
the crows are wondering…
the world is so still.

And her second, a timely reminder of our need for human contact, whatever form it takes

Dying is not difficult.
Not having good Friends,
a Hell realm indeed.

 

My daughter Lizzie, a nurse in northern Michigan, sent a few. Her work brings back memories of long ago when we sat at the kitchen table and wrote haikus inspired by art postcards.

As of late although

Surfaces are suspicious

All has been wiped clean

 

and here’s one about delayed affection in the age of coronavirus

 

Just six feet away

You laugh and stand there smiling

I will hug you soon

 

My sister Ceci is using her quarantine time to clean out her basement. My sisters and I tease her that she has forever been cleaning out her basement. A good reason to disappear downstairs, I suppose. Anyway, here’s her Marie-Kondo-inspired haikus:

Cards and photographs
Fond memories abounding
Life in the basement!
And this one, presumably written before she found her way to the basement
Empty calendar
Days to fill and time to spare
For long lost projects!
Ceci’s friend Marge sent one too (both live in Deerfield, Illinois and miss playing tennis):
Fewer body aches
Could it be no more tennis?
Aching joints ok
Finally, for today, another dog haiku from Monica Bailey in Florida. She included a picture of her cute little friend Lilly:
There once was none.
Lilly working from home.
Now there is peace.
More tomorrow!

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It’s just-spring here in Michigan and each little green shoot is a jigger of encouragement. So is this poem, “Thank You” by Ross Gay, which I left in a pile of dead leaves at the end of a church parking lot.

 

Thank You
by Ross Gay
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

 

Seasonally this poem is off—it’s set in late fall—but existential crises come year-round.

 

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio but grew up in Pennsylvania. He teaches at Indiana University and Drew University’s low-residency MFA program. He’s won many awards, among them a Cave Canem Workshop fellowship.

 

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poem in grass, off path

poem in grass, off path

 

Face to Face

by Tomas Tranströmer

translated by Patty Crane

 

In February existence stood still.

The birds didn’t fly willingly and the soul

chafed against the landscape as a boat

chafes against the dock it lies moored to.

 

The trees stood with their backs to us.

Snow-depth was measured by dead straw.

Footprints grew old out on the crust.

Under a tarp, language withered.

 

One day something appeared at the window.

Work came to a halt, I looked up.

The colors burned. Everything turned around.

The land and I sprang toward each other.

Image 2

 

May is a little late to be posting a poem celebrating spring, but this is Michigan. Spring is ever tardy. And gloomy, especially this past week. Then yesterday the sun came out, the air warmed up, and all the sudden it seemed like every tree and bush was in bloom. Even dandelions were a welcome sight.

 

So you can see why I was drawn to this poem. “Face to Face” poet Tomas Tranströmer lived in Sweden but his description of winter could easily have been of a Michigan one. Winters here are long and dreary, and round about March they feel just like this:

 

the soul

chafed against the landscape as a boat

chafes against the dock it lies moored to.

 

The poem tells a little story, familiar to all living things, a story of death and renewal as old as the hills, but there’s something fresh here. The speaker’s relationship with nature is almost romantic. The title of the poem announces an intimacy to be explored. The intimacy unfolds in human terms: the poem begins with a chill between two beings, a fight, silent treatment—and then—what I see as make-up sex:

 

The land and I sprang toward each other.

 

I just love that line.

 

This version of the poem is a translation, so I’m reluctant to pick at the words and phrasing much. What we read is an approximation of the original. Here’s a different version, so you can see what I mean.

 

This one by Robin Robertson:

 

In February life stood still.

The birds refused to fly and the soul

grated against the landscape as a boat

chafes against the jetty where it’s moored.

 

The trees were turned away. The snow’s depth

measured by the stubble poking through.

The footprints grew old out on the ice-crust.

Under a tarpaulin, language was being broken down.

 

Suddenly, something approaches the window.

I stop working and look up.

The colours blaze. Everything turns around.

The earth and I spring at each other.

 

I like the use of present tense in the last stanza better than the past tense in the Crane version, but overall, I like Crane’s better.

 

Here’s another one, this by Robin Fulton (do you have to have a bird’s name to translate Transtromer?):

 

In February living stood still.

The birds flew unwillingly and the soul

chafed against the landscape as a boat

chafes against the pier it lies moored to.

 

The trees stood with their backs turned to me.

The deep snow was measured with dead straws.

The footprints grew old out on the crust.

Under a tarpaulin language pined.

 

One day something came to the window.

Work was dropped, I looked up.

The colors flared. Everything turned around.

The earth and I sprang toward each other.

 

For me, the best part of this version is the use of “flared” over “burned” in the penultimate line. But let me know your thoughts and preferences.

 

I had never heard of Tomas Tranströmer until I came upon a newly released collection of his at the library, but he’s hugely popular in Sweden. He’s been called Sweden’s Robert Frost.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.35.12 PMTranströmer (1931-2015) was born in Stockholm, the only child of a journalist and teacher. His parents divorced when he was young. At Stockholm University he studied poetry, psychology, religion, and history, eventually earning his PhD in psychology. Throughout his life he worked with juvenile offenders, the disabled, and drug addicts.

 

He published poetry all the while and became close friends with poet Robert Bly who translated his poems to English and help popularize him in the States. When Tranströmer was 59, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Six years after his stroke he was able to publish another collection of poems. He also re-learned how to play the piano, a lifelong hobby, using only his left hand. Link here for a beautiful video of him playing the piano weeks before his death.

 

Tranströmer’s poems are read the world over, from China to the Middle East. His work has been translated into sixty languages. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.

 

He won many other awards in his lifetime, but the tributes that interest me most are personal ones, tributes that show just how revered he was/is in his native country. A scientist who discovered a new species of beetle named it after Tranströmer, who was an amateur entomologist and whose childhood collection of bugs was once shown at a museum. And after his stroke, several composers wrote pieces for just the left hand so he could play them.

 

One of his two daughters is a concert singer, and many of his poems have been set to music. Link here for one example.

 

 

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I found this poem last spring, just after the last forsythia bush had turned green. I had to wait a whole year for the next blooming, and then I found that the poem is absolutely right. No one does plant forsythia anymore. The forsythia I found was mostly on private property. Private property with overgrown yews and old landscaping.

 

I finally found a row of forsythia by the library, separating the parking lot from a busy highway:

 

poem is in bush

poem is in bush

 

and taped Alison Brackenbury’s “Schemes” to a branch:

Image

I love this little poem, but can’t figure out why it’s called “Schemes.” Any ideas?

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poem is on tall tree stump, just above snow-capped ledge

poem is on tall tree stump, just above snow-capped ledge

March 1912

                              –Postcard, en route westward

by Natasha Trethewey

 

At last we are near

breaking the season, shedding

our coats, the gray husk

 

of winter.  Each tree

trembles with new leaves, tiny

blossoms, the flashy

 

dress of spring. I am

aware now of its coming

as I’ve never been—

 

the wet grass throbbing

with crickets, insistent, keen

as desire.  Now,

 

I feel what trees must—

budding, green sheaths splitting—skin

that no longer fits.

 

IMG_0875

 

For those of us in Michigan, the first day of spring is always a matter of faith.  This year especially, after a record-breaking winter and too many visits from the Polar Vortex, we have to believe in what we don’t see. The vernal equinox is here!  If you measure by hours of sunlight and not the greening of the earth, you can celebrate with these lines from Natasha Trethewey’s poem “March, 1912”:

At last we are near

breaking the season

Those are joyful words to me, words to carry around like a tiny solar cell under my coat.

 

It was seven degrees when I left the poem on a tree at a nature center a few days before the official start of spring. Buckets hung on the sugar maple trees like fanny packs, ready to collect the sap that was purportedly rising.  A maple syrup demonstration was scheduled for two days after I left the poem, and I hope the wind didn’t take it before then.  It’s a beautiful reminder for all spring-starved Michiganders that under the snow, a big sexy earth is ready to explode.

 

Trembling, throbbing, shedding its clothes, keen with desire–Trethewey’s spring pulses with the erotic.  What makes the poem so beautiful (and even more sensual) is the formal structure that contains, just barely, all that desire. Each stanza has lines of 5-7-5 syllables. That’s haiku, in case you’ve forgotten. The poem is a perfect balance of opposing forces.  Like a tight corset barely holding in a heaving bosom.

 

Unfortunately, the only throbbing going on after I left the poem was my frozen fingers thawing when I got to the car. But there were birds, in the sky, as song goes, and I never would have seen them winging (or heard them singing) if I hadn’t spent time with Trethewey’s poem.

 

“March 1912” is taken from Bellocq’s Ophelia, a collection of poems inspired by E.J. Bellocq’s photographs of prostitutes in the early 1900’s. (You can see the photographs here.) Tretheway imagines one of Bellocq’s subjects as a mixed race woman named Ophelia.  Ophelia, originally from Mississippi, turns up at a New Orleans brothel after she can’t find other means of supporting herself. The poems read like chapters in a novel, and Trethewey creates a fascinating character in this underground world.

 

Natasha Trethewey was born in Mississippi in 1966.  Her father was a white Canadian, a poet, and her mother a black social worker from the deep South. Her parents were married a year before mixed marriages were made legal.  They divorced when she was six.  From an early age she was aware of how she was treated when she was with her father and she could “pass” as white, and how she was treated when she was with her mother.

 

She was a freshman in college when her mother was murdered by her second husband.  Trethewey started writing poetry after her mother’s death as a way to deal with her grief.

 

Among the many awards she’s received, Trethewey has won the Pulitzer Prize and fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation and NEA. She was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012, a post she still holds.  As Poet Laureate, she has partnered with PBS to produce the show “Where Poetry Lives.”  Link here for an inspiring episode about poetry in Detroit schools, featuring Detroit writer Peter Markus.

 

She is the director of creative writing at Emory University, and lives in Georgia with her husband, a historian and fellow professor at Emory.  I just found out she’s coming to Detroit next month.  She’ll be reading at Marygrove College on April 4.  Link here for details.  I’m crushed that I’m going to be out of town that date, but if you go (lucky you), send regards from Poem Elf.

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I don’t often have the chance to monitor my poem-elfings once they’re up.  I do wonder what happens to the poems I’ve left behind, but I don’t pursue my curiosity.  It’s the fate of former boyfriends in the pre-Facebook age.  They may have grown bald, fat and alcoholic, but we used to be able imagine them gleaming and fresh, standing at the door with a prom corsage.

 

But my last post I’m tracking like a stalker because I often walk past where I left it.  I had taped Ruth Stone’s “Interim” to a chopped-off log, and knowing that tape doesn’t adhere to natural objects as well as to man-made surfaces, I expected the poem to fall off.  I didn’t expect to find it a week later, resting in a pile of dead leaves.

 

I poked a twig from a bush through the poem and walked on.

 

A few days later I found the poem had jumped ship again.  Shy, perhaps.  Doesn’t like the spotlight.

 

Again I re-attached it.  And I noticed how quickly spring has come.  I hope that the buds on this bush will keep the poem in place, possibly grow around it, and the poem will last all spring and summer.  Or better, someone will like it and take it home.

 

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